Goodbye, Wells Fargo

October 1999

I moved to my current hometown, Owatonna, MN. It’s a nice little town about an hour south of Minneapolis.

I immediately transferred the money in my checking account from my old bank in Kansas, to a new bank in Owatonna. I chose the Wells Fargo bank simply because it is housed in a structure that was designed & built by Louis Sullivan. It’s a magnificent old building and it’s fun going there:

Through the years, this Wells Fargo bank held onto all my money (except for my retirement accounts) and financed the following purchases for me:

  • a $6,000 loan to pay off my credit cards (won’t make that mistake again—I no longer use the damn things)
  • a $6,000 loan to buy a used car
  • my mortage for my first-ever house
  • hubby’s mortgage for his first-ever house (before we were married), at my suggestion
  • our joint mortgage for the home we bought together

I guess that’s only 5 loans, but that’s quite a lot of loans in 10 years. I appreciated that Wells Fargo never turned me down, and I never made a late payment on any of those loans. I even paid off a couple of them early. I suppose Wells Fargo wasn’t happy about that, but wouldn’t they rather have someone pay a loan off early, than default on it?

Fast forward to January 1, 2010:

In my email, I received my bank statement for the month of December 2009. I looked it over. I noticed a $12 debit in my account with the following description:   

“12/24/09 – Monthly Service Fee”

I stupidly thought:  “Huh. I thought I had free checking.”

I’d never noticed a monthly service fee before. I looked back at November, October, and September. No monthly service fees in any of those months.

I mulled it over for a couple of days. Had I signed up for some service with my phone company? Satellite TV company? Or something else that would rightfully charge me a $12 service fee every month?

I quietly racked my brains.

Nothing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010:

I called Wells Fargo and asked about it. Talked to Matt. Matt didn’t know the answer, but offered to call me back. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later he did indeed call me back. It seems that since I don’t currently have any loans through Wells Fargo, my checking account now incurs a $12 monthly fee that was just implemented in December 2009. (Where this came from, I have no idea. I have “free checking” and was not notified that my account would be incurring a monthly service charge.)

Might I add that, at this point, the blurry picture is beginning to come into focus? Obviously I have a new $12 fee because Wells Fargo is pissed that they’re not making interest off me anymore, and they thought they could just sneak in a fee and I wouldn’t notice. It’s not enough that I keep my checking account with them and that they have been making interest off my money for over 10 years now.

At any rate, Matt offered, “but I can switch your type of account, and you won’t get that fee anymore.” However, Matt was “not authorized” to reverse a monthly service fee, so sorry.

I said, “OK Matt, well, who can reverse that fee?

Matt: “My manager.”

Me:  “Will you transfer me?”

Matt: “Sure.”

Next I got the voicemail of a woman named Lisa. I understand that people aren’t always at their phones, so I left a brief message with my phone number and asked for a return call.

Nothing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010:

Nothing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010:

I called Wells Fargo again. This time, Gayle “helped” me. I explained the situation and stated that I was still expecting an answer from Lisa about my service charge. Gayle said she would give the message to Lisa personally, and that she would get back to me. Then without taking a breath, Gayle started sales pitching me on how I can earn interest if I open up a new savings account with Wells Fargo.

I replied that I’d like to get this $12 service fee, which I incurred through no fault of my own, reversed before I made any decisions about doing future business with Wells Fargo, such as opening a new savings account.

Gayle said, OK, I’ll call you back. I waited all afternoon.

Nothing.

Meanwhile, on my lunch break, I happened to talk to my friend Jan on the phone about some volunteer work that we’re doing together. I said to her, “if Wells Fargo calls me while I’m on the phone with you, I’m going to have to ditch you and take their call.”

Jan replied, “oh, did you suddenly get a $12 service fee?”

!

The same thing had just happened to Jan! Opened up the bank statement and saw a $12 service charge. She’d had no success on the phone, so her husband had to drive to the bank and offered to pull his money, so they’d reversed the fee and said there’d be no more fee.

Friday, January 8, 2010:

Still nothing.

Saturday, January 9, 2010 (tomorrow):

I believe I will get great satisfaction at walking into the bank tomorrow morning and closing my account. Then I will drive to the local credit union, which I have already researched, and open up a new account there.

As for the $12, I hope I can get it reversed before I leave, but at this point, I’m kind of excited at the prospect of letting it be the reason I’m leaving Wells Fargo. It’s going to be worth the $12 to just walk out with my cashier’s check.

I’ll be bummed not to go into the Louis Sullivan building much anymore. But I guess I can still go inside and look sometimes.

In conclusion, a few points for financial institutions:

  • Some account holders do look at their monthly statements.
  • Some customers are generally unforgiving when they feel that their bank has been unnecessarily greedy and sneaky.
  • Consumers have choices.
  • Sales reps should not try to sell a new service to a customer who has an unresolved service problem. Wait until you solve the problem to the customer’s satisfaction, then pitch your new deal.
  • Even if you can’t resolve an issue quickly, call back your customer and give her a status update. Silence is the lamest form of customer service you can ever offer. 
  • Empower the people like Matt to do the right thing for the customer. It only pisses off customers when poor Matt, doing his best, has to say, “I’m not authorized to help you.” He seemed ethical, honest, and capable to me. Let him take care of his customers.

Finally, a note specifically to Wells Fargo:

I have just accepted a job where I’m going to make more money. You could have kept my business, and comfortably invested my added income for another 10 years, if only you would have returned a phone call promptly, apologized, and cooperatively reversed a measly $12 service charge. Sorry it ended like this.

*****

UPDATE, FRIDAY AFTERNOON AT 4:10 PM:

Lisa from Wells Fargo called me. She is incredibly focused on what kind of account I should “really” have with them and wants me to come in and meet with them to figure out “what’s best for me.”

What’s best for me? Getting the $12 service fee is best for me. WHY DON’T THEY GET THIS?

After we went around and around (“I don’t really want to come in to see you just to get this accomplished; can’t you just remove the fee?”), she agreed to remove the service fee. On Monday.

(Why?)

I responded, “OK, I will keep an eye on that.”

We hung up.

I’ll bet $12 that I don’t see my $12 on Monday.

I am still leaving Wells Fargo. They don’t care about me and surprisingly, Lisa, a manager, didn’t even pretend to care about me. She cares about what kind of account they set me up with next. They REALLY want me to open a savings account. Just because they want me to, I’m not doing it. Do their salespeople get kickbacks based on how many “new” accounts they can open? I suppose.  (Not my problem!)

But I won’t be leaving Wells Fargo tomorrow because now I want to get my $12 back first. I’m mad, now. Three phone calls and they still can’t figure this out. The stupidity of the entire situation just takes my breath away. Great job, Wells Fargo higher-ups. You are forcing your employees to act like greedy jerks.

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